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Turkey talk

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When one turkey gobbles, the rest chime in. The sound becomes one big cloud of “gobble,” ending just as quickly as it starts.

Brad Myers’ turkeys are as pretty as they are loud. They’re heritage turkeys, and breeds that are not commonly raised on a commercial scale.

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Though it’s not his day job, Brad has been raising and selling heritage turkeys for many years.

They’re not what you’d generally find roosted on a holiday dinner table, but heritage turkeys are becoming a popular alternative to the more common broad-breasted white strain of turkey found in supermarkets.

Brad, of Pequot Lakes, raises two breeds of heritage turkeys — royal palms and bourbon reds.

The royal palms are black and white, with intricate spots and stripes on their wings and tail. The bourbon reds live up to their name; they’re mostly reddish-brown with beige on the end of the wings and tail.

Brad’s flock is the product of generations of selective breeding. His original poults (baby turkeys) were purchased around 1970 from Colorado. Since then, he’s worked to develop his flock for high-quality birds.

His business isn’t in the turkey as meat, but as breeding stock for other turkey farmers. His turkeys have fetched as much as $65 each at auction. He sells mature turkeys, hatching eggs and poults.

He takes the turkeys to shows and auctions across the state, often selling out.

“They come from Kansas, Ohio, all over to buy breeding turkeys,” Brad said.

Brad began working with turkeys when he was just 10 years old. He worked for Bill Mimm, a turkey farmer in Pequot Lakes. Mimm gave Brad all the turkeys that were crippled, and Brad cared for them.

Some of those crippled turkeys hatched perfectly healthy young turkeys, and soon Brad had raised a strong flock.

He prefers turkeys because the demand has always been there for heritage turkeys. Brad also likes the fact that they care for themselves and can hatch their own eggs. Commercial turkeys can’t do that; they’re too heavy.

Though the turkeys require a little extra care while they’re young, they’re much more self-sufficient when they’re older.

“You’ve got to keep them warm and dry to start with or you’ll lose them every time,” he said.

Brad’s turkeys are raised organically. He raises his own corn and buys oats from another farmer to feed them.

It’s one reason Brad says his heritage turkeys taste better than commercial turkeys. Heritage turkeys also have more fat, so they tend to be less dry.

The eggs are good, too. Brad said they taste just like chicken eggs. They’re cream colored with brown speckles, about half again as large as chicken eggs, and have thicker shells. Most of his eggs, though, are incubated for hatching and are not eaten.

Brad’s certified with the National Poultry Improvement Plan. Each of his turkeys is blood tested once a year to check for disease. He calls his certification “the social security card of the poultry business” because it allows him to sell to other states.

He takes pride in his turkeys, which are registered in the American Poultry Association’s Standard of Perfection.

Brad has kept chickens, ducks, pheasants, emu and other types of birds. But, he said, “I keep coming back to turkeys.”

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